Friday, 27 March 2009

"Hellfire" - 1982 article in Penthouse by Nick Tosches

It was 3 o'clock in the morning and the master bedroom of Graceland was still. Elvis Presley lay in his blue cotton pajamas dreaming. It was the same old dream. He walked through Tupelo in the late afternoon on a summer's day, toward the home of the virgin Evangeline. He was smiling as he turned a corner and entered a street where lush hackberry trees swallowed the sun. There was the house of her father, where she waited, wrapped in that magic, unholy thing from her mama's bottom drawer. He felt a chill. He was naked. Pleasance became dread, and he flushed with panic. He would retreat across town, where his mother was not dead and there fetch his clothes. If he hurried, there was time. He took a shortcut through a backyard he recognized, but was soon lost, running scared in a strange, unfriendly place, until he came to a meadow like none he had ever seen, and afternoon became night and the meadow became endless and he screamed.

The telephone at his bedside was ringing. It was one of the boys downstairs calling to tell the Boss there was trouble. The Graceland security guard had watched nervously as the 1976 Lincoln Continental sped up the gravel driveway and struck the gate. "I want to see Elvis," the driver shouted, with a voice as harsh as the clang of chrome and wrought iron that preceded it. "You just tell him the Killer's here." The guard recognized him as Jerry Lee Lewis and told him that Elvis did not want to be disturbed. This displeased Jerry Lee. He pulled out a .38 derringer, and his eyes, which were already partly closed, tightened with a further wrath. "Git on that damn house phone and call him! Who the hell does that sonofabitch think he is? Doesn't wanna be disturbed! He ain't no goddam better'n anybody else." Jerry Lee spat in disgust and then commenced yelling anew. He did not relent, and the guard went to the phone. "Elvis says call the cops" the boy at the house told the guard. Jerry Lee howled and waved his pistol toward the manor. The guard did as he was told, and a patrol car arrived in less than a minute.

The officer peered into the Lincoln and saw that Jerry had the Derringer pressed against the door panel with his left knee. He pulled the door open, and the gun fell. He picked it up and found that it was loaded. "I'll have your fuckin' job, boy," Jerry Lee hissed. The officer drew him from the car, frisked him, and locked his wrists. More patrol cars came, and Jerry Lee was taken away. Riding slowly, against his will, the prisoner glared into the slow river of dark night, wondering what had gone wrong. The thought came to him, and just as quickly fled, that there were no Breathalysers in Old Testament days. This must mean something. He thought about singing a song, the old one about meeting in the morning; but he didn't. Then at last he grinned and shook his head, for he knew that the cold, brilliant handcuffs would not long contain him.

By the end of July 1957, the record "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" had sold about 100,000 copies. Then it ran into trouble. Many people feared the song and its singer. Even some who liked Elvis damned Jerry Lee Lewis, as lascivious and evil. Mothers smelled his awful presence in the laundry of their daughters and preachers stood before their flocks and railed against him and his sinful song. Slowly, radio stations began to ban the record and it was heard less and less. Judd Phillips, the Sun Records promotion man, took Jerry Lee to New York and arranged for him to audition for Steve Allen. Impressed by Jerry's combination of musical virtuosity and audacious showmanship, Steve Allen eagerly agreed to have the young man perform on his NBC-TV program the following Sunday night. "The Steve Allen Show" of July 28 opened with a skit by Shelley Winters and Anthony Franciosa in which Franciosa re-enacted his marriage proposal to Winters.

The show grew duller as the hour passed. With less than five minutes left to the show, Jerry Lee was given his signal. He sat at the big piano and looked sideways at the camera, eyeballed it the way he looked at those girls in that Arkansas beer joint, and then began to rake the keys and howl about the shaking that was going on. He rose, still pounding, and he kicked the piano stool back. He played some high notes with the heel of his shoe. Then he stopped and looked at the camera sideways again. Neither he nor Steve Allen had ever heard louder applause.

The very next day, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" began to rise anew and nothing, not preachers, not mothers, could contain it. At the end of August, the record held the no.1 positions on the C&W and R&B charts - only Elvis before Jerry Lee had a single top both charts. Then it rose to the top of the pop charts. By summer's end the record had sold well over a million copies. Jerry Lee returned in a Cadillac of triumph to Ferriday, the small Louisiana town of his birth. He embraced his father, Elmo Kidd, and his mother, Mary Ethel, and his sisters, Linda Gail, who was ten and very tall, and Frankie Jean, who was almost thirteen and already married. He embraced Uncle Lee Calhoun, the patriarch of the parish; and Lee, who was in his sixties but still riding a horse daily across his many acres of black land, smiled at Jerry Lee and told him that he had done good. The old man was right: Jerry had done good. Less than a year ago, no one outside of Concordia Parish had known who he was. Now his fame was second only to that of Elvis. Less than a year ago, he had been poor. Now he was making more than five thousand dollars a week. He had everything, it seemed. Everything except Myra Gale Brown.

Born in 1935, the son of a Louisiana tenant farmer, Jerry Lee had grown up torn between the Devil and the Holy Ghost. Most of his kin were in the Assembly of God, a Pentecostal sect whose members spoke in unknown tongues. As a teenager he himself had planned to enter the ministry and toward this end had studied briefly at a Pentecostal Bible institute in Texas. But the Holy Spirit had never been able to hold him for long.

Before he was old enough to buy a drink, he had been pumping the Devil's boogie in saloons of Natchez, which lay across the Mississippi River from his Louisiana home. The Devil had also lured him at an early age into the thraldom of female flesh. He had married for the first time when he was sixteen.

Without divorcing his first wife, he married again the following year. This marriage had produced two sons. One of these, Jerry Lee, Jr., was now almost three; the other, Ronnie Guy, not quite two, was and would ever be declared by Jerry Lee to be no son of his but rather the bastard stain of his wife's adultery.

Now there was Myra Gale. She was his 13-year-old cousin and he was in love with her. On Sept 4, he filed for a divorce from his wife, Jane and moved into the Memphis home of his aunt and uncle, Lois and J. W. Brown, Myra's parents.

Jerry Lee's next record, "Great Balls of Fire," released on November 3, became the biggest hit in the history of Sun Records. His fame and his purse grew greater and greater, and fate seemed to be a faithful bride at his feet. Imperiously, he refused to precede any other act on stage.

On the afternoon of May 13 a Memphis judge divorced Jerry Lee and his wife, Jane. Jerry Lee sat quietly in the courtroom. He did not contest the alimony judgment, nor did he mention that he had secretly married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Myra Gale, the previous December. The world was still unaware of that marriage when Jerry Lee arrived in London on the night of May 22 to commence a thirty-seven-day concert tour of Great Britain.

Judd Phillips at Sun Records had advised Jerry Lee against bringing Myra to England with him, but Jerry Lee had spurned that advice. Reporters and photographers set upon them when they stepped arm-in-arm from the plane at London. They asked who she was, this smiling little girl in tight black slacks and a black-and-white jumper. 'This," said Jerry Lee, "is my wife." The reporters wanted to know how old she was. "15" said Jerry Lee. The reporters wanted to know how long they had been married. 'We were married two months ago, and we're very happy," said Jerry. The reporters asked Myra if she didn't think that 15 was too young an age at which to be married, "Oh, no, not at all," Myra said. "Age doesn't matter back home. You can marry at 10 if you can find a husband." Then the flashing lights blinded her and she clung to Jerry. They escaped the newsmen and were driven in limousines to the Westbury Hotel in Mayfair, where they checked into Room 127.

The next day, Jerry Lee was shown a copy of the London Daily Herald. There was a large photo, taken at the airport the night before, of Jerry Lee and Myra Gale embracing, and in bold black letters the words "'ROCK' STAR'S WIFE IS 15 And It's His Third Marriage!" That same day, across the sea, Sam Phillips, the president of Sun Records, picked up a copy of the Memphis Press-Scimitar and inhaled slowly through his nostrils. The headline was: JERRY LEE LEWIS WEDS. After receiving news of the marriage from London, a Memphis reporter had done some digging, and now, in the Press-Scimitar, it was revealed that the marriage took place "almost exactly five months before Lewis was divorced from his second wife," and that "Myra's birth certificate reveals that she was born on July11, 1944."

Jerry and Myra were driven on Saturday night, May 24, to the Regal Edmonton, for the first show. 2000 teenagers sat in a murmurous anticipation so perfect that it seemed orchestrated. The lights dimmed and there he was in a shocking pink suit with sequined lapels and a black ribbon-tie. He was beholding the audience while they beheld him from behind a blind of applause. He felt power then loosened the grasp of his eyes and turned towards Myra in the wing. He raked the keys of the big piano and howled of the fire, and the audience, receiving the Devil's message was no longer murmurous but wild with sound, or silent, according to the bent of their souls. Jerry gave them little more than 10 minutes. "He treats his audience with an attitude bordering on contempt," one British reporter wrote a few days later and the teenagers; those who had been loud with excitement, those who had been silent, began to jeer and hiss as the curtain fell. Someone started to sing 'God Save the Queen," and others joined in amid the jeering and hissing. Finally the curtain rose, and Jerry Lee gave them more, gave it to them hard and frenzied and unrelenting, as a man who lay lustful and betrayed upon a hated wife; and then he left the stage.

On the following morning, Sunday, May 25, the Daily Sketch said hat Jerry Lee 'throws together everything that is bad in rock n roll. Drooling at the piano, Lewis moans, grunts, wails, and sneezes so close to the microphone that he might be eating it." Said the front-page editorial in the newspaper. The People was more hostile, calling for all teenage subjects of the crown to boycott Jerry's concerts and thus 'show that even rock and roll hasn't entirely robbed them of their sanity." The editorial also urged the home secretary to have Jerry Lee deported from the United Kingdom. Jerry Lee and Myra were driven that Sunday to the Kilburn State Theatre; for the second show of the tour. On the following day, the Herald reported that only 1000 of the theater's 4000 seats were filled, adding that, "Those who stayed away missed nothing."

On Monday an editorial in the London Evening Star said 'that, "Lewis should not be allowed to parade his charms before British teen-agers. He should be deported at once. He is an undesirable alien." Later that night, Jerry Lee performed at the Granada Theatre in Tooting, where he was met by cries of "Cradle robber!"

He was scheduled to appear the following night at the Odeon in Birmingham. But that morning the British agent Leslie Grade, who had booked the tour, met behind closed doors with the President of Rank which owned the theaters that Jerry had been booked into for the rest of the tour. After the meeting Grade announced that the tour had been cancelled. At 2:15 that Tuesday afternoon, Jerry and Myra Gale left the Westbury Hotel through a side door. Limousines carried them to the airport, where photographers and reporters were waiting. Leading Myra Gale past them, Jerry Lee picked up a paper at the airport newsstand and glanced at the headline, which proclaimed that France's new premier had averted civil war. "Who's this De Gaulle guy?" he said loudly as the newsmen caught up with him. "He seems to have gone over bigger than us."

As the Pan American clipper headed toward ldlewild Airport, the United Kingdom celebrated the success of its exorcism. Under the headline BABY-SNATCHER QUITS, the London Daily Herald reported in its Wednesday' edition, "The Jerry Lee Lewis circus flew sadly out of London last night." Upon landing at Idlewiid on Wednesday morning, May 28, Jerry Lee found that what awaited him was almost as bad as what he had left behind. As the crowd of reporters rushed toward him, Myra ran into a private waiting room. Photographers flooded Jerry Lee's vision with their white flashing. A reporter from the Daily News asked Jerry Lee if he didn't think it was a bit odd for a man to marry a thirteen-year-old girl. "You can write this down," Jerry Lee said, raising his voice. "She's a woman." He and Myra Gale boarded a Capital Airlines plane, and they were back home in Memphis a few minutes after two in the afternoon.

Thinking that it might placate the press Jerry decided to remarry Myra in a ceremony of impeccable legality. On the weekend after returning to Memphis he and Myra Gale drove south to Ferriday. They filled out a marriage license at the parish courthouse in Vidalia. Since Jerry's last Louisiana marriage, 6 years before, something had been added to the license form, and Jerry Lee filled this new thing out quickly 'and audaciously: "Relation of Bride to Groom: NONE" The press would not relent. Newsweek reported the more lurid details of Jerry's expulsion from England, juxtaposing the report with the news that Pat Boone had recently graduated from Columbia University magna cum laude. In the New York Herald Tribune, columnist Hy Gardner remarked that "the Jerry Lee Lewises are going to have an addition to the family. He bought her a new doll."

The summer passed, but trouble did not. Elvis, whose kingship Jerry had dreamed to usurp, sailed in khaki to Germany. Before departing, a reporter at the Brooklyn Army Terminal asked Elvis how he felt about what had befallen Jerry. "He's a great artist," Elvis said 'I'd rather not talk about his marriage, except that if he really loves her, I guess it's all right." Not long after arriving in Germany, Elvis met and fell in love with a fourteen-year-old girl named Priscilla Beaulieu. He eventually brought her to live with him at Graceland, keeping her, carefully, quietly, waiting till 1967 to marry her without taint.

By the time that Elvis sailed for Germany Myra Gale knew that she was pregnant. On the morning of February 27, 1959, she gave birth to a 7 pound boy. Jerry decided to name this son Steve Allen Lewis, in honour of one of the few decent men he had met outside of Concordia Parish. Soon Jerry moved his family into a new home in the Coro Lake section of Memphis. It was a ranch-style house with a swimming pool. Jerry liked to sit by the pool and not smile and not think. It was only a matter of time till he would once again be on top. He would sit there and know that, and he would clench and unclench his fist.

He rested a hand upon the cold porcelain urinal steadying himself. He was somewhere in Minneapolis. It was Easter Sunday '62. All was not well. Since that ruinous summer in 58 there had been no more big hits, no more big paychecks. But still he pumped onward roaming the country in a Cadillac, howling of the fire and of the shaking, seeking his own salvation. He was no longer the contender to the throne of the kingdom of rock 'n' roll. Things were different now. Elvis reigned in solitude, no longer performing in public, withdrawing into a mystery commensurate with his sovereignty. Rock 'n' roll itself had changed. It was soft and weak. At times it seemed to Jerry that only he himself was rocking on, burning true after all these years.

But his fame had dwindled, and so had his purse. He had once played for thousands of dollars a night; now he played for hundreds. He continued to make records for Sun, but Sun itself was barely there anymore. Yes, it seemed to Jerry Lee as he flushed the urinal and raised his head; yes, it had become strange and unreal, all of it.

900 miles away, in Memphis, as dusk settled on that Sunday of resurrection, Myra sat at the kitchen table making a grocery list. Little Steve Allen Lewis, who had turned three in February, pulled at her skirt for attention. She reached out and rubbed his blond crew cut. She finished the list and looked at the clock. It was 6:40; there was still time to get to the store. Then she noticed that Stevie was gone. She searched the house calling his name and the farther she searched and did not find him, the faster and harder her heart beat beneath her breast. She ran to her neighbour and in terror she asked him to search the pool. In about five feet of water near a little ladder at the edge of the pool, the neighbour met a horrible, gently drifting weight. He raised it and laid it on the concrete patio. Myra felt something that she had never know to exist, and she came apart in shock.

He had always been strict with Myra Gale. Since adolescence, she had been shaped like soft clay within his hands. Jerry Lee dictated what clothes Myra wore and he dictated these clothes according to the precepts of the Pentecostal church. He did not allow her to wear makeup or to cut her hair. He told her which records she might listen to, which TV to watch, which books to read. Once he had caught her with a paperback copy of Tobacco Road, the 1932 best seller in which an older man marries a 12 year-old girl. He tore the book from her and censured her mightily. Myra who knew little of the world, simply believed that all marriages were like her own, and she bent her knee in diffident fealty. Still, he smelled sinfulness in her.

Women had thrown themselves on him for years. Wherever he went, it seemed, cheap-perfumed things parted, lithe and yielding as the wind-blown Mississippi reeds of his boyhood; had parted first to receive whatever scrap of garish, stinking fame and glory they might, then later to receive the grotesque wraith of that fame and glory. Every time he disgorged himself in the mouth of whoredom, he cursed all women for what they had, to him, shown themselves to be. He turned on his wife, unable to see or to believe that she could be any different from the rest. He accused her of adultery, and he struck her.

Now a demon, or demons, inspired him to make accusations of a new sort. He began to imply that little Stevie's death was a heavenly punishment for Myra's sins. In the past, Myra had obeyed her husband's command that she attend church regularly (though he attended rarely). His new accusation brought a chill to Myra's teenage soul, and she ran to the Holy Spirit for comfort, praying no longer in mere obedience but in heartfelt need. A preacher at the Church of God on Highway 61 told her that the Holy Spirit could return the dead to life. For two years following this revelation, she besought the Holy Ghost to breathe miraculous life into her dead son, to wrench him from beneath the dirt and deliver him into her arms. She took to the pulpit and declared her love for the Almighty, as her husband all the while condemned her for her blasphemous hypocrisy. When she was 20 and the Holy Ghost had given her no sign, she unclasped her hands, cut her hair, and wept.

Jerry's contract with Sun expired on Sept 6,1963. Two weeks later he signed a modest deal with Smash, the new, subsidiary of Mercury Records. He recorded prolifically but could not recapture what had been wrested from him in that fateful May of 1958. Hardly anyone outside of Concordia Parish knew if he was dead or alive.

He had drunk and taken pills since he was a teenager, pumping piano in the Natchez honky-tonks, but he allowed neither the liquor nor the pills to reign over him. Since the death of his son, however, he had grown more extreme, and whiskey and drugs were fast becoming as important a part of his life as God and music. The booze and the pills stirred the hell within him.

At times he withdrew into his own shadow, brooding on all manner of things: abominable, unutterable and worse. At times he stalked and ranted in proud and foul omnipotence, commanding those about him as Belial his minions. He was the Killer, damned to be, for as long as there were good and evil to be torn between in agony. He would sit backstage in a thousand dank nightclubs, and he would know this, and he would swallow more pills and wash them down with three fingers more of whiskey, and he would know it even more. He would walk like a man to the stage, with his cigar in one hand and with his drink in the other, and he would then pound the piano and sing his sinful songs, night after night, year after year.

By the end of 1967, the record company had all but given up on Jerry and they planned to let his contract expire without renewal the following year. But on the cold, gray afternoon of Jan 9, 1968, in Nashville, Jerry Lee recorded a song called 'Another Place, Another Time." It was a straight country lament about booze, broads and loneliness, but the way he sang it, it seemed to contain all the sadness in the world. The record hit the country charts in the first week of March, and it rose till it was a Top Ten country hit. It stayed on the country charts for more than four months, and it crossed over to the pop charts. For the first time in ten long years, Jerry Lee Lewis's voice was heard throughout the South and the land beyond.

He narrowed his eyes and watched that returned whore, errant fame, raise her skirt, and he felt her belly warm to his, and he threw back his head and he roared as he had never roared before. The hits kept coming. As '69 began, Jerry Lee was the hottest country singer in the south making more money than he ever had. And he had done something he had not intended to do. He had stirred Elvis from seclusion. Since '65 there had been no Top 10 pop hits for Elvis, no Top Ten country singles. Fewer and fewer people were buying his albums or paying to see his movies. In the summer months of '68, Jerry's voice had once again come to be heard throughout the South, Elvis had gone into the NBC studio in Burbank and taped a television special. Broadcast on December 3, the one-hour show, Elvis, effectively revived his career and his confidence. In July '69 he performed in concert for the first time in almost 8 years, at the International Hotel Las Vegas, bringing an end to his retreat from the public and renewing in Jerry's heart the desire to wrest the throne of that kingdom that now, in 1969, no longer was but behind the uncalm eyes of these two unusual 34 year-old men who lived in opposite parts of Memphis, Tennessee.

Fame continued to hold her skirts high for Jerry Lee throughout '70. His concert price eventually rose to $10,000 a night. He bought his own plane, a DC-3, and hired his own pilot to fly him from city to city, fortune to fortune, night to night. But it was not meant to last. The Devil's joke had just begun. Not long after Jerry's 35th birthday, Myra and he decided that it would be financially wise to make her the legal owner of their home at 5042 East Shore Drive, Memphis. On Oct 21 they signed a document that rendered Myra the landlord and Jerry the tenant of their home. After signing the papers, Jerry departed for a tour of Australia. He didn't know Myra had hired detectives to gather evidence of his sins.While Jerry was in Australia, Myra filed for divorce. Her bill of complaint accused Jerry of various infidelities. She stated that since '64 she had 'been subject to every type of physical and mental abuse imaginable," and that on several occasions Jerry had threatened to 'hire people to throw complainant in the river and to throw acid in her face." She said he "drinks constantly." Shelby County deputies served Jerry Lee with the divorce papers as he stepped from a plane. He stared at the papers, shook his head and swore.

He was still suffering from his loss of Myra Gale when he learned on the day after Easter '71, that his dear mother had slipped into darkness and had been taken to Concordia Parish Hospital. She died there the following week, at the stroke of midnight, April 21, taking with her a piece of her son.

In the first dark hours of April 23, the day after Jerry Lee laid his mother beneath the dirt, a cruel windstorm swept through Memphis. Jerry's Douglas DC-3 was moored at a private airport on Democrat Road. The Hecate wind took that DC3 and hurled it across the ramp, smashing it against a parked Cessna. Jerry went out and bought a bigger plane, a Convair 640 turbojet with twenty-six seats and a full bar. Three weeks later, on May 12, the divorce became final. A judge awarded Myra the house near Coro Lake, $175,000 tax-free, and two Mark Ill Lincoln Continentals. On-September 3, four months after the divorce, Myra married Peter Malito, one of the private detectives that she had hired to investigate Jerry Lee.

A month later Jerry Lee was sued by a woman who claimed that he had verbally and physically assaulted her during his performance at the El Captain supper club in Memphis. She complained that he had insulted her over the pa system, that he had thrown a hardbound book at her, twisted her arm, and tried to drag her across the electric organ he was playing.

On the following Thursday, October 7, Jerry Lee married a pregnant twenty-nine-year-old Memphis divorcée named Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate. They separated two weeks later, reconciled, separated again, reconciled. In the spring of 1973, he bought a second plane, a Cessna 340, and a new home, a fifteen-room manor on a thirty-acre tract in De Soto County, Miss. But his wealth had begun again to dwindle. The country hits became smaller and smaller, and none of them crossed to the pop charts. The $10,000 bookings became fewer and fewer. And the night began to wear the scent of sulphur.

It was August 26th '73 and Jerry and his band had just flown to Memphis from a show in NY. They had landed at 1am and Jerry wanted to roar. "We were real wired up and raving around" recalled drummer Tarp Tarrant."We had been in several joints and Jerry had almost gotten in a fight in every place.We finally went down to Overton Square to TGI Friday's. We had just sat down and they were playing Jerry's records. At the table next to ours were two couples from Arkansas. The men were giants and their old ladies were hogs. After a while the men went to the restroom. At that time one of the ladies said 'I hate this Jerry Lee Lewis shit they're playing'. The Killer just turned around and said "Fuck you, you old redneck whore!' and turned back around. "About 2 minutes later a man tapped Jerry on the shoulder and said 'Are you Jerry Lee?' The Killer said 'the one and only.' The man hit him and broke his nose. We were so stoned we didn't think it was broken. I told Jerry to let me take him to the doctor but he said 'Hell, no, I'm rockin'! Besides, ain't nobody can hurt the Killer.' "9 hours passed, and we had gone to several after-hours joints. By this time Jerry's nose was swollen up real big and he let us take him to Baptist Hospital. He just laughed and said, 'One more battle scar won't matter none.' He was laid up in the hospital for a week."

Jerry Lee had given his son, Junior, the jeep for his nineteenth birthday. Now, eleven days later, November 13, Junior fitted a tow-bar to the rear of the jeep and drove from Memphis to De Soto County, Mississippi, to fetch another car, a Ford XL, from a repair shop. He was driving back along Holly Springs Road, near Hernando, at about eight-thirty that evening. He turned. The Ford that he was towing swerved round and hit the abutment of a bridge; It jack-knifed and overturned the jeep. He was pronounced dead at 9:24pm. Jerry Lee claimed the body of his son, and he had the hospital people put it in a rubber sack. He took the sack to his plane, and he laid it in the aisle, and he told his pilot to steer south, toward Ferriday.

On December 3, three weeks after Jerry Lee had laid his son beneath the ground, his wife, Jaren, filed a Circuit Court suit seeking separate maintenance and child support. She accused Jerry Lee of cruel and inhuman treatment and said that he and she had recently separated again. A month later, on January 7,1974, his bass player, Hawk Hawkins, and his steel-guitarist, Charlie Owens, quit and filed suit against him for $8,000 in back salaries. In October the Capaert Investment Corporation filed suit against him for $100,838 he owed in payments on the Convair turbojet he had bought three years before.

On March 11, 1975, he performed at Bad Bob's in Memphis. He began arguing with a girl at the club and ended up taking a fiddle bow to her. Claiming she had been "brutally and savagely attacked," the girl filed against him seeking $100,000 in damages. A judge eventually fined him $25 for striking the complainant, then fined the complainant $15 dollars for breaking the bow. On April 11, Jaren filed for divorce, claiming that Jerry had threatened her with bodily harm.

He came upon Elvis in Las Vegas and said "You don't know what you're doin'. You're just Col.Parker's puppet." "Well," said Elvis "If I'm so dumb and you're so smart, how is it that I'm playin' the main room and you're playin' the lounge?"

On September 29 '76, Jerry's 41st birthday, his bass player, Butch Owens visited Jerry and Jaren at the Memphis house where Jaren resided. He brought a copy of Jerry's new album "Country Class". The two men sat drinking and talking while Jaren watched TV in the living room. Jerry pulled out a .357 magnum and pointed it toward Owens. "Look down the barrel of this," he said. Then he aimed the gun to the right of Owens and said, "I'm gonna shoot that Coca-Cola bottle over there or my name ain't Jerry Lee Lewis." There was gunfire. Owens clutched 2 bleeding holes in his chest and staggered into the living room. Jaren yelled at him for bleeding on her new white carpet. Owens was taken to St. Joseph Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. Jerry was charged with shooting a firearm within the city limits, a misdemeanour.

At nine in the morning on November 22, he steered his $46,000 Rolls-Royce onto Powell Road and kept steering into the turn as if it had never happened. The Rolls flipped over into a ditch. He crawled out. The police took him to jail. He registered zero on the intoximeter, but, according to police chief H. Goforth, "His tongue seemed thick. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was kind of unsteady on his feet." Ten hours after Jerry Lee was released from jail, he drove to Graceland, to the two-leaved gate. He waved his pistol and he cursed the night.

It was August 16, 1977, and Elvis was dead, facedown on his bathroom floor. A thunderstorm crossed Tennessee that afternoon. Two days later, police officers stood in solemnity along Elvis Presley Boulevard and saluted as the white Cadillac hearse rolled slowly by. They, the Killer's persecutors, saluted.

"How did you react to Elvis Presley's death?" the man from the country music magazine asked him. "I was glad. Just another one out a the way. I mean, Elvis this, Elvis that. What the shit did Elvis ever do except take dope that I couldn't git ahold of? That's very discouraging, anybody that had that much power to git ahold of that much dope. All I did was drink whisky. "Elvis. That sonofabitch died on dope. His heart was twice the size as normal. That's how much dope he took. I'm tellin' you what he done. He was a dope addict. I am an alcoholic."

On December 14-15, 1977, he went into the studio and cut fifteen songs. These were the last records he would make for Mercury. Soon he would have a new label, Elektra. It didn't matter, except for the advance.

At one in the afternoon, February 23, 1978, Jerry Lee was rushed to the emergency room of Baptist Hospital, suffering from respiratory distress. Soon after he arrived, reports flooded the Memphis newspapers and television stations. Jerry Lee Lewis, these reports said, was dead.

On February 27, 1979, Internal Revenue agents converged upon Jerry Lee's Nesbit home. They confiscated his cars, his guns, his stereo equipment, and his furniture. "I don't think they'll ever bring my stuff back," Jerry Lee told a Memphis reporter. "And I don't care if they don't. I'll go out and git me some more."

He filed for a divorce from Jaren in the spring of '79, claiming that he and she had "not cohabitated as husband and wife since October 21 '71." On June 8, Jaren filed a counter suit charging him with "cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery, habitual drunkenness and habitual use of drugs." A week later Jerry sat onstage at the Palomino Club in Hollywood. He looked into the eyes of his audience and said, "Elvis killed himself over a broad. It took 5 of 'em to put me in the shape I'm in today." Backstage after the show a writer tried to interview him. "You've been married 5 times: Do you know any more about women now than you did the first time you got married?" "Yeah. Pussy is pussy."

On September 11, after Jerry Lee's repeated failure to appear in court, a US District Court Judge in Memphis ordered the absent and defaulted defendant and his estranged wife, Jaren, to pay $125,000 in damages to Butch Owens, who, three Septembers ago had been told by his employer to "look down the barrel of this." 7 days later, IRS agents returned to his ranch in Nesbit to claim more of his worldly possessions. After leaving the ranch, the agents reported to the county sheriff that quantities of controlled substances were to be found secreted in Jerry Lee's home. He was arrested at noon the next day. Wearing a silk ascot and smoking a corncob pipe, he told a reporter from the Associated Press that the bust was a set-up.

On January 15, 1980, Dr. George Nichopoulos sat before the Board of Medical Examiners in the Memphis City Council Chambers, defending himself against charges that he had prescribed massive doses of addictive drugs to Elvis and several other patients. Listed among them was Jerry Lee. The white-haired doctor told the board that Jerry was a drug addict and he had been hospitalised for his addiction on at least 3 occasions since '77. He said Jerry customarily took eight to ten capsules of amphetamine before every performance. 'He was getting them off the streets," Nichopoulos said. "I was trying to control what he was taking, trying to limit what he was taking, until we could get him off the pills and show him that he could perform without them." A few days later, after deliberating for fifty minutes, the board found Dr. Nichopoulos guilty as charged.

Not long after his 45th birthday, Jerry read in the paper that the IRS had auctioned off all the worldly goods, cars, guns and jewels that they had seized. He read that the money from the auction did not equal his debt and the IRS wanted more. It was Cleveland or Toledo or wherever, it was dark and raining hard. He turned on the television but found nothing but static. The static took on a strange, dreamlike clarity. He began to see a swarm of vile insects: These were the principal demons, loosed from the brass vessel of Solomon. He shut off the TV. His heart beat fast, and he trembled. Turn on the lights, he told himself. But to get to the wall switch he must pass a mirror. He would turn his face away as he passed it; yes, that was it. But he was 45, he told himself, and he must be strong not weak. Jerry Lee Lewis spat out his unclean fear and took hold of himself, and he walked directly toward the mirror. But there was a furious beast in that mirror, and it devoured him.

My thanks to Jerry Lee Lewis fanatic and a personal friend of the Killer, Graham Knight.

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